Nothing resets your thinking like bouncing your head off a hardwood floor.
At least, for me.
It was about 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, and we were shutting down the house. That routine consists of turning lights off, locking doors, and plugging in phones and tablets for recharging. I plugged my iPad into its designated outlet, in a tight corner in our front room. Most of the lights in the house were out and a glass of water in hand, I turned, took one step forward, and caught the front of my foot under a footstool.
If I was an accident waiting to happen, at least I didn’t have to wait long. In my head what happened next sort of looked like this. But it didn’t at all, and in a flash, I was hitting the side of my head on the floor before broken glass and water were everywhere.
But most of all, stupid me for stupidly refusing to find a safer and smarter way of accomplishing this simple task!
Not too long ago, I ran across a page on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s website about MS and falling. It’s worth a visit if you haven’t seen it and you’re prone to tripping. Its main points are to assess yourself before getting up, to stay calm and in control, to try to have a sense of humor about it (if you can), and to thank anyone who has helped you.
But it doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining how to fall the right way. And nothing is worth doing if you’re not going to do it well. Right?
I asked Google to see if there’s information about how to fall better. There is. “How to Fall Down Without Getting Hurt” contains “tricks” for falling better from former Hollywood stuntman Hal Needham. Besides photos depicting the two basic moves you should take while falling, it also includes concise descriptions of what should ideally be happening before you hit the ground (or hardwood floor).
It also suggests that you practice how to fall.
It worked for Elliott Royce. Royce, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 96, estimated he had fallen 15,000 times in the previous 10 years. But those falls were on purpose. According to the Star Tribune, Minneapolis native Royce performed five “practice falls” every morning on an inflatable mattress he kept especially for that reason. He also toured local senior centers, assisted living facilities, and other places to teach the elderly the best ways to fall without hurting themselves.
Royce stressed that he had taken seven “real” falls, but outside of some bruises and aches and pains, he never got hurt. Part of that, he said, was planning to fall and being prepared for when it happened. “Once you start to fall, you don’t have time to think about what to do,” Roy said in the article. “You’re going to have about one second to figure it out, so you better have some plans.”
The article includes a video and description of part of Royce’s secret: Bend at the knees so you’re not falling quite as far (or as hard), twist at the waist and shoulders to spread out your points of impact along your body instead of just one spot, and then roll as you hit the ground to distribute the impact even further.
But part of Royce’s secret, it seems to me, is that he kept a positive and practical attitude throughout his life.
My fall on that Saturday night was the second in the last six months, the fourth in the last 18 months. One was in public, foot drop helping me catch my toe in the crack of a sidewalk while we were on vacation. I sensed it was coming and kind of stopped, dropped, and rolled, and then a very nice young guy helped me up.
It all happened in the blink of an eye, and I only had a minor scratch on my knee.
Another fall happened when I foolishly tried to carry a pizza and salad into a carpeted room. (Pro tip: Place the salad container on the pizza box, then, while falling forward, hold on to the pizza box until you’re about one foot from the floor. At that point, scoot the pizza box across the floor. It won’t be pretty, but you will save your dinner.)
Frankly, I’m sort of amazed by how little I’ve been hurt. My latest fall left me a little shaken and with a nasty bruise on my forearm, but otherwise, nothing. Still, falling is a sharp, sometimes frightening, reminder of how thoughtful and purposeful I must be if I’m going to continue walking. Plus, I want to avoid scaring my wife when she sees or hears me hit the ground. I want to do both.
We’ve used an inflatable mattress for houseguests before. I guess I better find it and add practice falls to the list of exercises and routines I do to manage MS. It’s a long list, and it just keeps getting longer. Stupid MS!
This column originally appeared at Multiple Sclerosis News Today.